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May 16, 2006

¶ Why I hate Hewlett Packard
I had an absolutely awful experience with Hewlett Packard customer service this past week, and after being given the telephone run around for hours upon hours, repeatedly denied, explictly lied to, and hung up on twice, I have resolved never to purchase a Hewlett Packard product again, and will strongly recommend the same to everyone I care about until their technical and customer support improves dramatically.

A summary of my complaints:
  1. HP told me my laptop would be repaired under warranty and returned within 3-5 business days. 6 business days later I had to call and find out that I would be charged $300 for repair. HP did not make any attempt to contact me and inform me of these charges, or of the delay.
  2. Five separate service representatives failed to explain to my satisfaction the type and extent of the damage that was not under warranty. Two of them gave explicitly contradictory descriptions of the damage - Mike said the damage was internal, and Sam said the damage was external.
  3. I was blatantly lied to a number of times. Mike said a service technician would call me in within two hours. Nobody ever called. Sam said he did not have the authority to authorize a repair on the laptop, and 10 minutes later he actually did so.
  4. My questions were never directly answered. For example:
    • I asked Mike the name of his supervisor. He responded by asking what he could do for me. I asked him to answer my question, and he did not refuse, but instead asked unrelated questions. This repeated several times.
    • I asked many times to be connected to a supervisor, or a case manager, and was never told "yes" or "no". Instead, they responded with "please tell me what is wrong with the laptop" or other unrelated questions.
  5. I was hung up on twice. I have never before experienced a dropped phone line in my office building, and don't expect to again unless I am on the phone with HP customer support.
  6. The original reason put forward to explain why my laptop was not repaired and returned to me turned out to something that did not affect the working condition or structural integrity of my laptop, and had nothing to do with the reason I sent it in for repair.

My experience
Last September, my lab purchased an HP Pavilion dv1000 laptop for me to use in my research. Nine days ago on a Sunday, the laptop suddenly and quietly turned off when I was using it, and would not power on again despite my most valiant efforts and pleadings. I called HP tech support, and after an hour of going through diagnostic procedures, was told that my laptop would need to be sent in for repair. Additionally, I was told that this problem was covered under my warranty and that my laptop would be returned to me in 3-5 business days. Fine, I can work on something else for a few days.

Tuesday morning rolls around and I receive a Fedex box for my laptop so I bring it to the nearest Fedex/Kinko's and bid my laptop farewell for a few days. Later that day I receive an automated email tracking my laptop and find out that is received the next morning. Go Fedex.

Thursday and Friday roll around and I don't hear anything, and wonder what's taking so long, but don't worry about it too much.

On Monday, I still haven't received my laptop and so I call HP customer support to determine the status of my laptop. It turns out that the laptop is not repaired and they've determined that there is "damage to the upper assembly" of the laptop that they do not consider to be covered under warranty, and that I will have to pay $300 for repair. Of course, I am astounded and upset. I ask again for more specific details on the type and extent of the damage. What does "damage to the upper assembly" mean? Is it internal damage or external damage? What is the upper assembly? Is it a scratch? Did a cable break? Did someone (not me) smash it with a hammer?

I explain to the service rep that when I sent the laptop in for repair, that the exterior of the laptop was in pristine condition, without any scratches or blemishes, and ask her to clarify the damage. She is unable to do so, and asks me to call again the next day. Confused, I agree and hang up. A few minutes later, I resolve to get the issue fixed and call again. This time I'm connected to someone named Mike. I ask Mike to transfer me to someone who can tell me what's wrong, but he doesn't. I ask Mike to transfer me to a supervisor and he doesn't. I repeatedly tell Mike that the laptop was never dropped, shaken, or physically mistreated since it was purchased, and that this purported damage could not have been caused by me. Whatever, it's not like he's listening to me anyway. Mike puts me on hold for a while and eventually tells me that he's arranged for a service technician to call me within two hours and explain the damages to me. Suspicious, but somewhat appeased, I agree and let him go. Of course, nobody ever calls me. Bold-faced lies.

Tuesday morning (today), I call HP tech support again and ask why I wasn't called. Initially, the service rep (another Mike, but I don't know if it's the same one) tells me that there is no record that anyone is supposed to call me. I insist that there is and after a few minutes of "checking", he concedes that someone was supposed to call me. Whatever. Once again I try to apprehend the extent of this "damage to the upper assembly" and after another 15 minutes, manage to get Mike to tell me explicitly that it is internal damage, but he's unable to tell me what kind of internal damage. I ask to speak to a supervisor. I continue to protest that the laptop is under warranty and that this $300 charge is bogus unless they can explain the damage to me and why it's not covered. He keeps saying something about "accidental damage is not covered under your warranty" but will not tell me what the damage is. I ask repeatedly to be transferred to a supervisor and after about the 10th try, he agrees. After being put on hold for an additional 30 minutes without anyone picking up, I have to hang up and leave for a meeting.

After the meeting, I call tech support again and Jason Victor answers the phone. I cut right to the chase and ask to be transferred to a supervisor, because it is evident to me that the people I've been speaking to aren't able to answer my questions. After 15 minutes of asking to be transferred to a supervisor, he agrees to do so and puts me on hold. 34 minutes later, the line disconnects and I am back to square one. Funny, I've never experienced a dropped call from my office before.

Undeterred, and extraordinarily frustrated, I call again and Sam answers the phone. First, I make another brief attempt at understanding exactly what this damage is. Sam puts me on hold for 5 minutes and then tells me that there is damage to the exterior of the upper assembly. Hold on a second, Mike told me that the damage (whatever it is) was to the interior. So if it's exterior damage, is it a scratch or what? Sam has no idea and is unable to find out. He says he'll have a technician call me tomorrow. I call bullshit and decline. I ask if Sam has the authority to authorize the repair without charging me, and he says no, he does not. I ask if his supervisor has this authority, and he says no, his supervisor does not have the authority. I ask who does, and he says, "the case manager". I ask to be transferred to the case manager and he refuses.

Next, I try a different approach and ask Sam to explain to me why it is that I was never contacted about this repair, and why I had to wait until Monday to call and find out that it wouldn't be repaired unless I paid $300. Sam has no explanation, and puts me on hold. Five minutes later, he tells me that he's going to authorize a repair to the power supply of the laptop, but that he won't authorize the damage to the upper assembly. I ask him to clarify and eventually understand from him that the damage to the upper assembly does not affect the structural integrity or working condition of the laptop, and that the problem with the power supply is what's preventing my laptop from working, and is covered under warranty. All of a sudden, I am extremely confused. I was given the impression from the very beginning that this damage, which nobody has explained to me yet after 5 hours on the phone, is the root cause of the laptop's problems. Now, I am told that it is merely cosmetic exterior damage, and that my power supply will be repaired under warranty. I make him repeat and confirm to me several times that the laptop will be returned to me in proper working order. Finally, I ask him to explain all of the discrepancies I've encountered, and he is unable to do so. I ask to be transferred to a case manager, and he puts me on hold. 20 minutes later, the line disconnects again. Surprise surprise.

In short, this was an extremely unpleasant experience that smacks to me of deceit, and an intent to defraud a customer out of a service (the repair) previously agreed upon in a written contract (the warranty). I have gained absolutely nothing from this exchange, and wasted hours of my time speaking to customer support representatives who are trained to do nothing but deceive, lie to, and otherwise mislead customers. It will be a cold day in hell before I, or anyone I have influence on, purchases another HP product again.
October 7, 2005

¶ unreliable people
Schrock's dad won the Nobel prize! Now we know where at least some of his smarts came from. (Eric Schrock was the same year as me at Brown, and we worked on a bunch of projects together. He's now a kernel guru at Sun)

Some time ago, I began to appreciate the value of a dependable person when working as part of a team. Not necessarily the fastest, or the strongest, or the most talented, but just plain dependable. Looking back on a number of group projects or team efforts I've been a part of in the past, the ones that failed were never because we didn't have the potential, or the drive, or whatever. They always failed because someone, who everyone else was counting on, just didn't follow through with their part. Oh, I didn't have time. Sorry, it slipped my mind. Oops, this other project is way more important. My schedule changed unexpectedly. There's always some excuse.

Recent example: I've been maintaining this translation software for a few years now. I don't put a lot of effort into it anymore, and it targets a niche audience, but a few people find it quite useful. Sometime in the spring, a programmer approached me with some suggestions and patches to improve it, and said he wanted to help out. Optimistic, I gave him access to the project files and within a week or so he made a new release. On looking at it, I found a number of bugs, and asked him to fix these and re-release. All of a sudden, *poof* it's impossible to find this guy anymore. Over the next six months, he becomes the busiest person in the world without a single moment to spare. Finally, I got annoyed and fixed the bugs myself, ending this whole collaboration feeling quite let down.

Anyway, I guess I'm not saying anything that anyone doesn't know already. It just bugs me that dependable people are so few and far between. I suppose that can't be helped, though, as there are only so many people you can be 'dependable' for.
December 29, 2004

¶ walking on thin ice.
I think my parents figured out how to googlestalk. Hi dad.

I realize now that I accomplished pretty much jack shit this past semester. Learned a lot, but basically didn't do any research at all. Not so good. How am I supposed to graduate if I don't do any research!? *pulls hair out*

Went to the woods today to see how thick the ice on the lake was. Did the standard procedure - drill to check depth, move 10 feet, repeat until safety limits are established. Got really annoyed cause this woman walking her dog by the edge started yelling at us saying the ice wasn't safe and to get off the ice. I tried telling her that I was drilling the ice to see how safe it was, but it was useless. She started spouting some bullshit that you need six inches of ice to safely support a walking person1 and ended by yelling "have fun falling in!" and walking away.

Stuff like that really bugs me. I would've been fine if she had just said something like 'be careful, I don't think the ice is safe' and left it at that, or even if we could've had a nice conversation where I explain to her the safety procedures I was following. But she wouldn't hear a single thing I said and just kept on freaking out on me.

It happened again with the second person we saw that day, about 10 minutes later. I was about ready to explode with frustration.

The actual ice depth varied from 1" in some places to 3" in others. Not safe if you're not careful where you step.

No, we did not fall in.

Even if we had fallen in, we would've gotten cold, wet ankles at worst. The water was never more than 2' deep in the areas we walked through.

I guess what bothers me more generally is when people don't have a clear understanding of true safety limits for a certain activity, and then try to restrict your actions based on their misinformation. Or even when they do have a good understanding, but treat you like a helpless imbecile nonetheless. For example, when MIT sent out a message to the general community urging everyone to stay indoors during the world series. That's just insulting.

I'm not saying that I never make safety mistakes, cause I do. But what I would appreciate is if when people see someone doing something that seems unsafe, they take a second to establish just how unsafe it is, and if the person is aware of both the risks and consequences, instead of just going all freaky ballistic.
1 2" is sufficient for a single walking person if you're not obese, 6" is enough to support a decent pickup truck. Most ice safety charts you'll find nowadays will cite a minimum depth of 4" to be safe, but that's also bullshit. See here and here for examples of conflicting figures.
November 7, 2004

¶ The most annoying greek letter

By far, the most annoying greek letter ever thought up has to be the letter ξ. It's not only hard to pronounce (ksi, try saying that ten times really fast), but it's damn near impossible to write too. ξ. It's like a perverted E. And the worst is the blasted little squiggly at the bottom! Screws you up!

This is what happens when I try to draw the ξ

It just comes out as a bunch of squiggles! squiggles!! I don't want squiggles! I want ξ!!

*runs around in circles, pulls hair*

August 17, 2004

¶ my angry book review.
Normally, I am forgiving of the incorrect use of science in science fiction for the sake of plot. It's okay that half of the science in Star Trek is bullshit cause it helps make a really good story most of the time. But Neal Stephenson just annoys the hell out of me when he writes about computer stuff.

In Cryptonomicon and Snow Crash, there are a couple things that really pissed me off.

The first was the man's obsession with powers of two. Everything in his stupid little world was a power of two. Yes, binary is important in computer science, but if you really wanted something with an elegant mathematical grounding, you'd pick a number system of base e. And if you can't handle a non-integral radix, then just pick three cause it's still more efficient than two. The only reason computers operate in binary is cause all the physical components happen to be cheaper that way, not cause it's more efficient.

Second. So it's cool that Stephenson tries to explain lots of CS topics in layman's terms. But when you're explaining how a computer monitor works, don't describe a CRT when you're explaining how a friggin LCD works. LCDs do not have big radiation guns and phosphor particles. CRTs do. LCDs don't. grr.

Some of what he describes is well done, though, and grounded in some very cool, but relatively unknown science. van Eck phreaking (spy on a video display from a distance by picking up its electromagnetic emissions) definitely being the coolest. Except he does screw up and apply it to an LCD display, but that's forgivable, imo.

Related to van eck phreaking, and not mentioned at all by stephenson, is eavesdropping on a modem by observing the LED status indicators. I think that's pretty hot. Too bad it doesn't work on ethernet routers and switches.
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